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Critically, Eternals is the lowest-rated MCU project on Rotten Tomatoes by a fairly wide margin, with a critical score of 47 percent (the audience consensus is a lot more forgiving with a score of 78 percent). While the sprawling film, which had to cover 7,000 years of human history and the introduction of 10 brand-new characters, didn't score the same amount of praise as other Marvel offerings, writer-director Chloé Zhao doesn't regret a single second and remains extremely proud of the paradigm-shifting, grand cosmic ideas presented in the film.
"There are things in the film you know [will] raise some eyebrows, right?" the Oscar-winning filmmaker admitted to Empire for the magazine's May 2022 issue (now on sale). "Every time I make a film, I always want to challenge my audience. I want to push how far genre can go, and the medium of cinema. I never want to feel stagnant. And every time, it feels like it could have been a divisive response. As an artist, we don't have control once our baby goes into the world, the timing and the world we're in."
Zhao went on to theorize that the movie's delayed release may have factored into the divide among critics. "Eternals was planned to be released soon after Endgame, and not at the time when everyone is having an existential crisis," she added, most likely referring to the COVID-19 pandemic, which seriously messed with studio release dates and more importantly, our mental well-being. "The film itself is about existential crisis, both for humanity and God. So I think we definitely felt it was coming."
The polarization could also be chalked up to Zhao’s naturalistic indie aesthetic viewers don’t often see in a big budget blockbuster like Eternals. “I completely understand the divineness coming from critics and the fan,” she said, touching on this cinematic cognitive dissonance. “Because when you take this to extremes that are seen as opposition — the world I come from and the world of Marvel — that has been divided in a way that’s so unfair and unfortunate — and to merge the way we did, I actually see the reaction as a testament to how much we had merged with each other; how uncomfortable that might make people feel.”
Eternals is now available of home video, including Disney+, which, in Zhao's opinion, might soften audiences up a bit.
"I always wanted people to watch the film in the theaters, especially how this one was visually conceived," she continued. "But in retrospect, maybe being in the comfort of your home instead of in a mask in a theater with strangers allows people a level of vulnerability and comfort. So then [when] they watch your film about an existential, they could take it in a little more. And take bathroom breaks!"
When asked about Harry Styles' short cameo as Eros (the strapping and handsome brother of the Mad Titan himself), the director gave a suspiciously vague answer: "As a fan, one of the joys is to be able to sit back and see how the seeds you plant can grow. And I've planted a lot of seeds with this film. I look forward to the next 10 years to see what kind of fascinating and brilliant and strange shape of plants are going to come out of those seeds."
In addition to the arrival of Eros — and the beginning of a plan to save the other Eternals from the clutches of Arishem — the movie also lays the groundwork for Dane Whitman's (Kit Harrngon) transformation into Black Knight and the debut of Mahershala Ali's vampire-slaying hero, Blade.